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Fake degrees threaten Nigeria’s education

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AN earthshaking exposé on how a Nigerian journalist, Umar Audu, bagged a Mass Communication degree from a ‘university’ in neighbouring Benin Republic in six weeks has again opened a can of worms of degree mills. Nigeria is not new to this menace. There have been several reports of how fake centres sell ‘degrees’ to desperate Nigerians, ruining the reputation of Nigeria. Therefore, all the regulatory bodies must work seamlessly together to restore integrity to Nigeria’s education system.

The fact that Audu, after receiving the fake degree, proceeded to embark on the one-year service under the National Youth Service Corps scheme, deepened the scandal, as he noted that he had been part of the scheme before. Nigeria must block all the loopholes that make this possible.

Typical of the Federal Government, the Ministry of Education clamped a blanket ban on all schools in Benin Republic and Togo. It has extended the probe to Kenya, Ghana, and Senegal, and other countries. While the swift response is commendable, the issues are deeper than just a ban. The Nigerian government must probe Audu’s findings and bring the perpetrators in the education and interior ministries to book swiftly.

It is also expedient to investigate the reasons Nigerians rush to these countries despite the noticeable issues the authorities have had with them. The National Association of Nigerian Students in Benin and Togo says that no fewer than 10,900 Nigerian students will be affected by the proposed ban.

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Apart from trooping to West Africa for degrees, Nigerians send their wards overseas at great expense. The Central Bank of Nigeria revealed the country spent $1.38 billion on this between January and September 2022, the lowest figure since 2016 for the same period.

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For Nigeria, however, charity must begin at home. Therefore, the government must also probe allegations of degree racketeering in foreign and private varsities operating in Nigeria. This will sanitise the tertiary education system.

The National Universities Commission, the regulatory body of universities here, says that no fewer than 18 out of the 58 universities whose operations have been suspended in Nigeria are foreign-owned.

Crucially, the scandal is a wake-up call for the Minister of Education, Tahir Mamman. He should review the existing policies and procedures related to accreditation and certification to identify the weaknesses contributing to the menace. The rules for these approvals must be tweaked to accommodate new information and respond to new racketeering stratagems.

Earlier, this newspaper had revealed in a report how a monotechnic operating in Ogun State is fleecing students of their hard-earned money in the guise of offering Pharmacy, Law, and Nursing degrees. This means that even at home, the system is rotten. The craze for certificates, especially from outside Nigeria is threatening Nigeria’s tertiary education, which is already hobbled by incessant strikes in public institutions and brain drain.

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Both the NUC and the Federal Ministry of Education must ensure that there are impromptu checks on all universities. The universities themselves must strengthen their systems and make sure that the system is air-tight to avoid abuse.

The government must take advantage of the findings of the investigative report because education is the bedrock of every nation. The government owes a sense of duty to prosecute all those caught buying or selling degrees, running frivolous or unaccredited programmes, or giving phantom degrees to Nigerian students.

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The NYSC authorities should develop the technology to beat those intent on embarking on youth service more than once.

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Education

NYSC deploys 2,172 corps members to Bauchi State

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THE National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) has deployed no fewer than 2,172 corps members to Bauchi State for the 2024 Batch ‘A’ stream ll orientation exercise.

The NYSC Coordinator in the state, Mrs Rifkatu Yakubu, said this in an interview with Theheute on Tuesday in Bauchi.

According to her, registration of prospective corps members will start on April 17 and end at midnight on April 21 at the NYSC Permanent Orientation Camp, Wailo, in Ganjuwa Local Government Area.

She explained that the swearing-in ceremony of the prospective corps members would be conducted on April 23, while the orientation exercise would end on May 7.

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She also said each of the prospective corps members would be allowed into the camp only after they must have been adequately certified to be genuine graduates.

The coordinator said discreet screening of the corps members would be conducted as part of security measures to ensure that there was no intrusion or impersonation.

“Registration dates have been announced to the corps members, and they are advised to adhere strictly to all camp rules and regulations.

“Defaulters will be sanctioned in accordance with the scheme’s extant rules,” Yakubu said.

The state Coordinator also reiterated that the scheme frowned at late-night journeys and urged prospective corps members to avoid it for their own safety.

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She tasked them to be punctual and diligent and comply with the camp’s acceptable dress codes, adding that flouting the directive would be sanctioned.

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Student Loan: FG plans pilot scheme for public institutions

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The Nigerian Education Loan Fund, on Wednesday, said it would begin a pilot phase of the student loan scheme with applicants from public tertiary institutions.

This includes students of federal and state universities, polytechnics and colleges of education.

It also expects President Bola Tinubu to soon appoint a chairperson, a Managing Director and two Executive Directors as part of its executive management team.

The spokesperson for the Fund, Mr Nasir Ayitogo, affirmed this to our correspondent on Wednesday, citing the provisions of the Student Loans (Access to Higher Education) Act (Repeal and Re-Enactment) Bill, 2024, which Tinubu signed into law, on the same day.

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Ayitogo noted that the President was expected to launch the scheme after appointing qualified persons into the offices provided by the new law.

The executive bill was titled “A Bill for an Act to Repeal the Students Loans (Access to Higher Education) Act, 2023 and Enact the Student Loans (Access to Higher Education) Bill, 2004 to Establish the Nigerian Education Loan Fund as a Body Corporate to Receive, Manage and Invest Funds to Provide Loans to Nigerians for Higher Education, Vocational Training and Skills Acquisition and for Related matters.”

It was signed in the presence of the leadership of the National Assembly, ministers and major stakeholders in the education sector.

This followed separate considerations by both the Senate and the House of Representatives of the report of the Committee on Tertiary Institutions and TETFund.

The newly-signed piece of legislation allows for the appointment of a Chairperson of the fund, a Managing Director and two Executive Directors of Finance and Operations each to “assist the Managing Director in performing his duties.”

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The appointees “shall hold office for five years,” the Act read.

The new Act also made the loan fund a corporate entity with the ability to enter contracts, including loan agreements with applicants, or to initiate enforcement actions to recover loans from beneficiaries; provisions it lacked hitherto.

“Right now, with the President’s assent to the new bill, it means there will be a new management. There will be a managing director, as against what we had in the previous law, an Executive Secretary. And there will be two executive directors too.

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“So, we await the President to make these fresh appointments before we can begin anything. Before the implementation, those appointments will have to be in place.

“There must be a Chairperson who will be appointed by the President,” said Ayitogo.

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Asked if the new provision covers students in public and private institutions, he said, “For the pilot scheme, it is just for public institutions.”

On the number of public institutions to enjoy the pilot scheme, he explained, “The target for this phase of the loan are students of federal and state universities, federal and state polytechnics and federal and state colleges of education. Whoever desires the loan will apply.

“When you need the loan, apply and you will get it if you meet the requirements.”

However, no launch date has been set for the programme.

After assenting to the new law on Wednesday, Tinubu thanked the National Assembly for speedily considering it, affirming that his administration was committed to increasing the skill levels of working-age Nigerians.

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He stated, “I have just signed a bill proclaiming the student loan effectively. First of all, I must thank members of the National Assembly for their expeditious handling of this bill considering the children of Nigeria, that education is the tool to fight against poverty effectively.

“We are determined to ensure that education is given the proper attention necessary for the country including skills development programmes.

“This is to ensure that no one, no matter how poor their background is, is excluded from quality education and the opportunity to build their future.”

Turning to those in the room, the President said, “We are here because we are all educated and were helped.

“In the past, we have seen a lot of our children drop out of colleges and give up the opportunity.

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“That is no more, the standard and the control is there for you to apply no matter who you are as long as you are a Nigerian citizen.”

On June 12, 2023, Tinubu signed the Access to Higher Education Act, 2023 into law to enable indigent students to access interest-free loans for their educational pursuits in any Nigerian tertiary institution.

The move was in “fulfillment of one of his campaign promises to liberalise funding of education,” a member of the then Presidential Strategy Team, Dele Alake, said.

The Act, popularly known as the Students Loan Law, also established the Nigerian Education Loan Fund to process all loan requests, grants, disbursement, and recovery.

Although the government initially announced that the scheme would be launched in September, it suffered several delays leading to an indefinite postponement in early March.

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The Presidency had linked the delay to Tinubu’s directive to expand the scheme to include loans for vocational skills.

After receiving briefing from the NELFUND team led by the Minister of State for Education, Dr Yusuf Sununu, on January 22, the President had directed the Fund to extend interest-free loans to Nigerian students interested in skill-development programmes.

Tinubu based his decision on the need for the scheme to accommodate those who may not want to pursue a university education, noting that skill acquisition is as essential as obtaining undergraduate and graduate academic qualifications.

“This is not an exclusive programme. It is catering to all of our young people. Young Nigerians are gifted in different areas.

“This is not only for those who want to be doctors, lawyers, and accountants. It is also for those who aspire to use their skilled and trained hands to build our nation.

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“In accordance with this, I have instructed NELFUND to explore all opportunities to inculcate skill-development programmes because not everybody wants to go through a full university education,” he had said.

On his part, the Minister of Education, Professor Tahir Mamman, argued that the new law not only avails eligible candidates the opportunity to obtain an education but equips them with vocational skills for their economic sustenance.

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“We want to thank Mr President for his compassion and passion for the downtrodden, who are the beneficiaries of this scheme.

“Now, the days when students will be struggling to sponsor themselves in their various educational endeavours are over, both at the tertiary and those who are seeking to be skilled, to be empowered and to move on with their lives. It’s a very great day for the country”, Mamman said.

Meanwhile, the President of the National Association of Nigerian Students, Lucky Emonefe, thanked President Tinubu for fulfilling his promise of education opportunities for young Nigerians through the student loan scheme.

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“This is commendable. As for Nigerian students that are represented here, we’re happy, we’ve seen Mr President’s commitment to the development of education and today the entire education system is happy; the Nigerian students, particularly, we’re happy, our parents are happy, that yes in Nigeria, even the children of the poor can have access to quality education.

“We’ve seen Mr President’s commitment at the signing of the bill today, it shows that Mr President is the father of modern education in Nigeria and the initiator of this bill.

“You will see that even Nigerian parents will be happy and we pray that those that will be given the responsibility will effectively carry it out to ensure that Mr President’s intention, vision and mission to ensure that no Nigerian student is out of school because of school fees”, Emonefe said.

Those who witnessed the brief signing ceremony at the State House were the President of the Senate, Godswill Akpabio; Deputy Senate President, Jibrin Barau; the President’s Chief of Staff, Femi Gbajabiamila; Minister of State for Education, Yusuf Sununu; and the Minister of State for Youth Development, Ayodele Olawande.

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Fake degrees: FG awaits probe report, threatens culprits’ arrest

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The Minister of Education, Prof. Tahir Mamman, on Tuesday, said security agencies will go after individuals with fake university certificates in the country.

According to the minister, the individuals will be tracked after the committee set up by the Federal Government to investigate the activities of university certificate racketeers in the country submits its report.

The Federal Government had set up an Inter-Ministerial Investigative Committee on Degree Certificate Milling to probe the activities of certificate racketeers following an investigative report published by Daily Nigerian which exposed the activities of degree mills in the Benin Republic.

The Daily Nigerian reporter, Umar Audu revealed how he obtained a degree within six weeks and even proceeded to embark on mandatory youth service under the National Youth Service Corps scheme back in Nigeria.

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The investigative report, which exposed the illegalities perpetrated by some tertiary institutions in the West African countries, led to the Nigerian government placing a ban on the accreditation and evaluation of degrees from Benin Republic and Togo.

The committee set up by the Federal Government was also tasked with investigating Nigerian private universities established in the last 15 years.

Checks by Theheute showed that no fewer than 107 private universities were established in the last 15 years.

Recently, the committee invited memoranda from the public. Selected members of the committee also visited institutions in the Benin Republic.

While speaking at the first quarterly citizens engagement in Abuja on Tuesday, the education minister, Mamman, said, “On the issue of the fake degrees, we set up a committee and we expect them to submit their reports soon. Once the report is submitted, I can assure you that individuals with fake certificates will be apprehended. They will be tracked by security agencies.”

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Also speaking at the engagement, the Minister of State for Education, Dr. Tanko Sununu, noted that the quarterly citizenship engagement was aimed at creating awareness of the activities of the ministry.

He noted that the engagement would “ also promote mutual understanding with stakeholders and citizens, build and sustain public trust, and improve transparency and accountability in the sector.”

“Worthy of mention is that this engagement also aims to improve efficiency and streamline government operations by identifying and addressing bottlenecks,” Sununu said.

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